For as long as anyone can remember, the often repetitive water cuts have been a major headache for those of us living in Selangor, and especially the Klang Valley. These water cuts affect millions of households in the region and often last for several days to even a few weeks.
What’s troubling is that notices are only issued at the last minute, causing major inconveniences for businesses and industries that rely on a steady water supply and preventing households from being prepared.
According to the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources (KATS), Selangor is consistently the state that suffered the most unscheduled water supply interruptions for the years 2014 to 2017. KATS’s figures show Selangor on top of the list for unscheduled water cuts with 84,796 out of 174,997 nationwide incidents in 2014.
In addition, it had 81,969 out of 167,055 incidents throughout the country in 2015, although this has fallen considerably to 19,061 out of 61,517 incidents in 2017. Such a high number is, however, still problematic for the most populous state in the country.
With the recent Christmas and Chinese New Year celebrations having been dampened by such cuts, people have been crying out for a proper solution. They have been demanding answers to why these water cuts keep happening and whether the water management agencies are truly able to resolve this constant problem.
Unscheduled water cuts cause chaos, especially for those with children, the elderly and the disabled. We have no idea why the water cut happens often just after dinner.
When it happens, we do not have water to wash our hands or plates. We would not have any water stored and most shops would be closed by the time we discover the dry taps. – Grace Ong, Bandar Utama 1 resident
There’s Something In The Water
Most of the water in Selangor comes from the Sungai Selangor and Sungai Langat river basins, with Air Selangor owning a total of 34 Water Treatment Plants (WTPs), 7 dams and 2 off-river storage system (ORS) within the area, producing an average of about 4,900 million litres of water per day to 8.3 million residents and various businesses. But despite this, water cuts remain a frequent problem for a number of reasons.
Chief among the causes of water cuts is pollution. Indeed, many notorious water cut incidents occurred because the supply was contaminated. On April 16th of 2020, 1.2 million people in the Klang Valley found themselves without water after four Sungai Selangor WTPs were shut down due to odour pollution.
And September 3rd of the same year saw one of the largest water cuts in the country (lasting almost six days) as raw water pollution originating from a factory in Rawang caused several WTPs – Sungai Selangor Phase 1,2,3 and Rantau Panjang Water Treatment Plants – to shut down. This water cut was such a big deal that it prompted Datuk Seri Jamal Yunos to protest Selangor Menteri Besar’s lack of efficiency in fixing the problem. He wore the iconic white towel that he donned in 2016 to protest similar water cuts.
More recently in December 2022, perfume essence dumped into the river led to the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant and Bukit Tampoi Water Treatment Plant temporarily shutting down and causing water disruptions in some 472 areas in Selangor and Putrajaya on Christmas Eve.
Sadly, such pollution has been taking place for decades. Industrial waste dumping at the Sungai Gong, one of the rivers that flow into Sungai Sembah which feeds into Sungai Selangor, has caused many high-profile incidents, including the 2013 diesel pollution incident that sparked a water crisis in the Klang Valley on Merdeka Day.
Existing System Can No Longer Accommodate Selangor’s Rapid Growth
Another cause of these water cuts is Selangor’s own water supply and distribution system which remains inadequate even with the state’s rapid development and population growth (with the total population being 6.56 million in 2021 by the latest.
Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang, former secretary general of the now-reshuffled Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA) states that because Selangor’s water distribution system follows a radial pattern, should one pipe burst, it will cut off the supply for the entire area.
He also states that another one of the reasons why water disruptions are so frequent in Selangor is because the state has very few treated water reserves. This leaves the state with practically no excess water to use in the event of an emergency such as a burst pipe.
The water reserve margin in Selangor in 2017 was at zero percent, which was identified as among the main factors behind the state’s water problems. In the event of a burst pipe, damaged water treatment plant or sudden increase in water demand, such as during festive seasons, there is a high possibility that certain areas in Selangor would experience water disruptions. – Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang, former KeTTHA secretary-general
Attempts To Reduce Water Disruptions In The State
Air Selangor has reassured us that it is coming up with fresh solutions to contain and manage water supply disruptions following the recent uproars. This is despite its chief executive officer Suhaimi Kamaralzaman stating that the company has been constantly extending efforts and making preparations to overcome this issue. Through certain measures that have already been implemented, he said, the frequency of water disruptions has significantly decreased, from seven incidents in 2020 to only two in 2021.
As part of its repair works, Air Selangor introduced the Physical Loss Reduction Programme and Commercial Loss Reduction Programme. Through these two programs, Air Selangor achieved total savings of 149 million litres per day (MLD) in 2022 from the former and 59 MLD from the latter through metre replacement and metre relocation works.
Under the Physical Loss Reduction Programme, the Active Leak Detection Programme identified 101,323 leaks through the fieldwork undertaken by leak inspectors and leak specialists. There are also 1,800 pressure transient sensors installed on strategic trunk mains to assist in detecting damage and leaks as of Dec 31, 2022. – Abas Abdullah, Air Selangor’s director and head of operations
Despite these improvements, Suhaimi admits that having no water disruptions is impossible.
We cannot avoid shutting down the plants on a scheduled basis every five years,” he said at Air Selangor’s year-end media interview held virtually with reporters today. Zero-water disruption is impossible in our line of business because sometimes you will need to fix, replace, or upgrade equipment, as well as flush pipes. – Suhaimi Kamaralzaman, Air Selangor’s chief executive officer
As for water pollution, the current punishment is a maximum fine of RM100,000 although recent amendments to the Water Industry Act 2006 proposed by the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) could see the punishment be increased to a maximum fine of RM20 million and a prison term of up to 20 years.
And although Air Selangor and other authorities have been doing their part to investigate and expose sources of water pollution in the Selangor watershed and punish the culprits involved, it continues to prove difficult.
We have identified certain areas (as the source of the pollution) but it is all in factory areas. We noted the pattern. It always happens at late night or at weekends and I believe the criminals are committing crimes at these times when surveillance is at its lowest. Because river areas are not being watched all the time, these crimes always are done late at night, early morning or on weekends. – Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, former Minister of Environment and Water
The frequency of these water disruptions and the apparent lack of efforts to curb the causes has led the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia president S. Piarapakaran to accuse authorities such as the Department of Environment and Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) of being too lax. He pointed out that the state had full power to blacklist or shut down premises found to be polluting rivers and reminded authorities that their checks could reveal the culprits and allow the Department of Environment (DoE) and SPAN to take further action.
We need to put an end to the problem now by closely monitoring the rivers for contaminants and also keeping an eye on riverside establishments, such as factories and restaurants. They should have conducted weekly checks along the rivers, in manholes and in riverside establishments. Such checks must be impromptu. – S. Piarapakaran, Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia president
Nevertheless, Suhaimi hopes that the construction of new WTPs will help reduce the frequency of water cuts.
As we add more and more plants to the current water supply industry in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Putrajaya, you will see disruptions reduced because we will have more backup plants for support whenever we close a part of our systems. Three (or) four years from now, with more and more plants being added, we hope the number can then be reduced substantially. – Suhaimi Kamaralzaman, Air Selangor’s chief executive officer
Residents Left High And Dry
As Air Selangor and other authorities continue to work on providing solutions, people and businesses have no choice but to continue suffering from these frequent water cuts. It is estimated that continuous water disruption over long periods of time may result in economic losses of billions of ringgit. This is due to a decline in production, cost increases and productivity drops.
Manufacturing, tourism, food, and healthcare industries will suffer losses as daily business targets cannot be met. For manufacturers, failure to achieve the target will lead to overtime operations to cover the affected production, increasing costs.
Continuous water supply disruption over a long period of time, especially to key national economies such as the Klang Valley, has a negative impact on productivity. In addition to affecting business operations and trading activities, it indirectly reduces investor confidence in the infrastructure available in Malaysia in general. If it continues, it can affect the country’s GDP growth. – Associate Professor Dr Aimi Zulhazmi Abdul Rashid, UniKL Business School Dean
For the average Selangor resident, however, there is a far more obvious problem with these water cuts. Bathing, washing dishes, quenching thirst and flushing the toilet will become impossible without a steady and continuous supply of water, not helped by the fact that many water cuts are unscheduled preventing households from preparing rations.
Although Air Selangor provides water tankers to affected areas, it is hardly a relief for many citizens. Mak Tom, then 69, found these water disruptions a huge burden for her as a senior citizen with knee problems.
I kept water as advised by Air Selangor. Use it sparingly. But when the plant broke down, the water supply cut was extended and now I have to carry water. The water tanker which is supposed to come is nowhere to be seen. And I have to get my neighbours’ help to carry water as I have knee problems. – Mak Tom, Taman Sri Andalas resident
For Taman Klang apartment resident, Mazila Mat Nasir, the water disruptions mean that she is forced to carry water six trips daily from Air Selangor tankers to her 1st-floor apartment.
Despite the water cut, I still have to cook for my four school-going children and husband. Buying food would be too costly. To reduce using water, we lay our plates with plastic sheets. Besides, we do not have much space to store water as our apartment is only 700 sq ft. – Mazila Mat Nasir, Taman Klang apartment resident
And of course, dry taps make it more difficult to celebrate the holidays, as Doris Tan learnt the hard way during the Christmas Eve perfume pollution.
I was preparing my family’s feast for Christmas when my daughter ran out of her room to tell me that Selangor is going to have water cuts. This old problem has been happening again and again without any solutions taken. It definitely affected my Christmas preparations. – Doris Tan, USJ, Subang Jaya resident
Odour pollution detected at the Jenderam Hilir Raw Water Pump Station intake caused the temporary shutdown of the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant at 7pm on New Year’s Eve, putting a damper on the year-end celebrations for 2022.
And most recently, Bangsar residents found themselves celebrating Chinese New Year with dry taps as a result of a burst pipe. Because of this, restaurants found themselves without water for cleaning and households are forced to buy food from restaurants as the water cuts made cooking at home more difficult.
Like Deepavali, Christmas, new year, and now Chinese New Year, we are having the same issues. We can understand that the repair works are ongoing, yet the festivals are very important occasions for us since they take place once a year. – Charles Tan, Bukit Bandaraya Residents Association president
What To Do When There Is A Water Cut
With the frequency of unscheduled water cuts in Selangor, it has become more important now than ever to prepare for such problems ahead of time.
- Stay informed and keep an eye on newspapers and social media feeds for announcements.
- Keep large water containers such as pails or buckets in strategic areas, and fill up as much as water you can in alternative storages such as top-load washing machines, pots or even cooking woks. Place these large water containers in every bathroom, toilet or kitchen in your house.
- Always stock up on drinking water. People tend to panic-buy when it comes to a water cut, so get your bottled drinking water as far in advance as possible.
- Keep an eye on your supplies and be sure to ration them. It’s better to plan ahead and stock up before you run out.
- Stock up on wet wipes and hand sanitiser to clean yourself with in place of water.
- Inform and ask permission from friends or relatives living nearest to you (who are not affected by the water supply disruption) to get water from them.
- Collect rainwater for washing purposes. Instead of just leaving a bucket outside in the open, a string, rope or chain can be used to collect more rainwater in your makeshift rainwater collection system.
- Avoid unnecessary watering, and delay watering your plants or garden. Reuse water as much as possible.
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- S. Sivasankar. (2023). Water woes dampen Chinese New Year celebrations in Bangsar. The Vibes. Link.